Maura Harrington is a spokesperson for the Shell to Sea campaign, from County Mayo, who has now been jailed four times for her opposition to the Shell Corrib gas project in north Mayo. Here she looks back at a decade of resistance by the local community and its supporters against an unwanted, dangerous and apparently corrupt exploitation of a sensitive environment.
The sorry saga of Shell’s proposed Corrib Project in north Mayo is now in its tenth year. Since the beginning of the 2nd millennium, the challenges from Shell/Statoil and their facilitators in successive governments to Erris and its people (together with their national and international supporters) have followed Nigerian worst practice rather than Norwegian best practice. It is disquieting to bear witness to the abdication by this State of its statutory duties to its people and its fawning acceptance of the wishes of big corporations.
The people of Erris and elsewhere who have rightfully questioned the economic, environmental and health and safety aspects of Corrib have, instead of answers, got beaten, vilified and imprisoned. What began as the expression of concerns regarding health and safety of people and integrity of environment developed through research to highlight the scandalous terms governing the country’s Natural Resources. In 1987 Ray Burke, against the advice of his senior civil servants, and following private meetings with oil company executives, abolished the State’s 50% stake in future oil/gas finds and, for good measure, abolished royalty payments. In 1992, Bertie Ahern introduced a favourable Corporation Tax rate of 25% along with the concept of Frontier Licences, which allowed the oil companies to sit on vast offshore acreages of potential reserves while the technology was developed to extract them. Oil companies, by their nature, play a long game in pursuit of fossil fuels at best return to themselves -- this benighted state, in contrast, due to the fools or knaves in charge of its governance, does not act for the furtherance of the common good.
At the time of writing, this country is awash with problems -- a burst construction bubble, ruinous unemployment, dwindling exchequer returns, crises in health, education and social welfare provision; the NAMA imponderable which will affect this and unborn generations in an as yet unquantified manner. In the corner stands the elephant that nobody in ‘Official Ireland’ wishes to acknowledge -- the question of the giveaway of our natural resources at a time of urgent economic need. We are second only to Cameroon at the bottom of the league table on benefit to the state from its own resources. It beggars belief that the vulnerable in our society are to be penalised for the greedy mistakes of others when it lies within the political remit of this government to properly manage the country’s natural resources for the common good. It is facile to argue that contracts with oil companies cannot be renegotiated when every social contract entered into by FF/GP has been scrapped to save the banks and developers and, in the case of Corrib, there is sufficient cause to so do given documented breaches of claimed consents, e.g. illegal welding of pipeline and illegal boreholes in an area supposedly protected by EU Directives.
To many people, the story of Corrib is spun asa case of Luddite farmers and fishermen (with the odd ‘mad’ teacher thrown in) fighting against ‘Progress’ because they don’ t know any better - and sure a few bob will settle them anyway! This is not surprising given the role of RTE as a public service broadcasting company that rarely upsets the State and the 87% ownership of print media in this country by Tony O’Reilly, who also happens to own the oil/gas company Providence Resources that has valuable acreage off the southwest coast.
The Corrib Gas Field is not just a medium-sized gas field in the middle of nowhere. It is the conduit, through a carefully choreographed planning process, for the rape of this country’ s oil and gas that rightfully belongs to the people of Ireland. The people of Erris know this; it is no fault of theirs that media spin by self-interested parties has prevented the wider public from being informed of what is really happening in this corner of north Mayo. It is not the first time in our short period of nationhood that we’ve been lied to, but it behoves us all to ensure that it’s the last.
Eamon Ryan’s department puts a figure of potential recoverable reserves at 130 million barrels of oil and 50 TCF (trillion cubic feet) of gas when ‘promoting’ the offshore area to oil companies. That is academic since the oil companies have known for a long time what the potential is and, since the early ‘80s, have played their long-term game to gain control and management of what rightfully belongs to the Irish people. However, using the above information, it is possible to put a conservative value of O540 BILLION on the potential recoverable reserves of oil and gas off our coasts. Until the scandal that is daily played out in Erris is addressed, all that will accrue to the Irish people will be small change from the oil company’s coffers. This is already to be seen in Erris where Shell presents as the Great White Hope with a few scholarships, a few bob for the GAA and the golf club and more for any few who form a group willing to take the shilling (one such group called itself the Doohoma Cemetary Restoration Committee - despite repeated enquiries including sending a registered letter, it was not possible to find out who they were).
At a recent meeting in Galway to discuss the question of Irish Resources, Eamon O Cuiv admitted that O49 million has been spent since October 2006 in ‘ policing’ the Corrib sites for Shell. So, not alone has the gas been given away, in a manner which one could suggest constitutes ‘stealing by finding’ for the oil companies but the cops are helping the robbers!
It is imperative for the future of this country that control of our natural resources is regained for the benefit of the Irish people. There should be an immediate suspension of the proposed Corrib Project pending a full independent, international inquiry into all its aspects -- economic, environmental, health and safety and human rights. It is the only reasonable answer to the currently unreasonable events in north Mayo.